Illinois Helping Everyone Access Linked Systems (Illinois HEALS) is a six-year initiative that seeks to address the needs of child and youth victims and their families by identifying young crime victims, coordinating prevention and intervention services post-victimization, and building capacity within communities to provide needed services and support.
For reading ease, we use the term “family” or “family members” to refer to the adults and other individuals who may live with and/or provide primary care for children and youth. These individuals or adults may include biological relatives (e.g., siblings, adults/uncles, grandparents, parents) and other caregivers (e.g., foster families, other non-relative adults).
Illinois HEALS brings together experts, service providers, community groups, young victims and their families, and other stakeholders to:
- Complete a 15-month strategic planning process resulting in a detailed action plan.
- Implement strategies that promote the identification, connection, and service engagement of children, youth, and families impacted by violence in Illinois.
- Identify and support sustainable approaches and programs that build service capacity within communities.
- Document project activities, including barriers, challenges, and successes, to help inform expansion to other communities in Illinois.
Vision. The overarching vision for Illinois HEALS is to alleviate the burden of finding services to address victimization by ensuring appropriate care and services are made available to all victims no matter whose door they first enter, whether it is their doctor’s office, their school, or the local police station or sheriff’s office.
Mission. Illinois HEALS leverages federal, state, and community resources and partnerships to implement policies, practices, and programs that strengthen the capacity of Illinois’ communities to recognize when victimization has occurred and connect and engage young victims and families in needed services.
This article provides a summary of the Illinois HEALS Action Plan, which will guide the future work of the project. The full action plan outlining our findings, project goals, and detailed action steps is available here.
In January of 2018, Illinois HEALS staff began having in-depth conversations across Illinois with other state agencies, system partners, community stakeholders, providers, young victims impacted by violence, and their families. Through these conversations we sought to learn:
- Victim need, how providers and systems in Illinois responded to victimization, and victim recommendations for improving these responses.
- Provider and practitioner perspectives on identifying and responding to victims.
- Current capacity of systems across the state to identify, refer, and support victims.
- Past and current initiatives in Illinois that involve(d) cross-system collaboration or focus(ed) on child and youth victims.
Leadership Network. The Illinois HEALS Leadership Network consists of stakeholders across the many systems that engage children, youth, and families including child welfare, civil and family court, community-based services, education, integrated health, and justice. The Leadership Network was convened quarterly during the planning phase to share emergent findings, brainstorm opportunities and barriers to the work, and identify other individuals and organizations whose input could further inform the project.
Stakeholder Meetings. Throughout 2018 and in early 2019, Illinois HEALS staff convened over 45 meetings with key stakeholders. Given Illinois’ diversity and the desire to engage communities in a more focused way, these meetings concentrated on two geographic areas, Cook County and the southeastern region of the state. These communities were identified based on victimization rates, stakeholder input, and county population characteristics. Staff sought to understand how children, youth, and families in Illinois who have been impacted by victimization are identified, referred, and served. The meetings generally centered on the processes used to identify victimization and signs of underlying trauma, challenges and barriers in service delivery, and the nature and scope of program referral and collaboration networks.
Direct Service Provider Survey. Researchers conducted a direct service provider survey to gain an understanding of the services and processes of agencies and programs that serve children, youth, and their families and provide insight into the service landscape in Illinois. The survey intended to reach every organization providing services in Illinois, ranging from advocacy and material assistance to treatment (e.g., physical, psychological, substance use), case management, and other supports.
Victim Interviews. The Linking Systems of Care: Young Adults and Caregivers Study was conducted via interviews with young adults aged 18 to 25 years old and parents or caregivers of children and youth under 18 years old who were impacted by violence in Illinois (N=65). The interviews focused on youth and family member needs following experiences with victimization, the systems youth and family members had contact with, and how well those systems met their needs.
A Relational Approach to Linkages
Across the planning activities, a common theme emerged. While identification, referral, and support are core to creating strong linkages, stakeholders and victims discussed relationships as essential for these three components to function in a meaningful way. Victims emphasized that a meaningful response is centered in relationships founded on trust and respect. Providers discussed how relationships with systems and agencies built upon accountability and resource sharing were crucial to comprehensively serving clients whose needs often extended beyond their own capacity. Viewing these essential components through the lens of relationship, strong linkages involve recognizing victimization has occurred and assessing its impact, connecting victims to needed resources, and providing services that meaningfully engage victims and their families (Figure 1).
A Relational Approach to Strong Linkages
With this relational approach to linkages as the guiding framework, Illinois HEALS will partner with one or more demonstration sites to strengthen those communities’ capacities to recognize victimization, connect individuals with resources, and engage children and young persons and their families in support services. These projects will be driven by the community, including the residents and organizations that serve them, and ICJIA will coordinate grant funds and technical assistance.
The project will meet the following Illinois HEALS Action Plan goals and core components that, together, address the needs of child and youth victims and their families:Goal 1: Build a local System of Care (SOC) that meets the needs of individuals, families, and communities by convening local coordinating bodies, securing appropriate funding, and developing policies and practices that further the work.
- Network: Victims are supported and represented by a coordinating body that guides community efforts to address victimization.
- Financial Sustainability: Resource development is ongoing and supports both direct and indirect services required to deliver care.
- Trauma Informed Practices: The system of care leads the community in creating a culture that is trauma-informed.
- Awareness: Community members and stakeholders are aware of signs, symptoms, and impact of victimization.
- Screening: The community screens children and youth for victimization.
- Care Coordination: Stakeholders and professionals are equipped to link victims and families to care.
- Referral Process: Processes and systems efficiently link providers to each other and families to the community’s resources.
- Workforce: Recruit, train, and retain a representative and trauma-sensitive workforce to meet the needs of victims, their families, and the community.
- Service Capacity: An array of services is available that meets identified needs, is accessible, and allows for victim choice.
- Quality: Services are evidence-informed, relying on strategies shown to promote healing and relate to victims’ needs.
- Community Specific Gap Analysis: Demonstration sites are aware of the needs of victims in their community and the gaps that exist between victim need, service availability, and current training practices.
- Best-Practices: Best practices can inform the development and implementation of a SOC project to achieve positive outcomes for victims.
- Project Design: Demonstration sites can adapt best practices for designing, developing, and monitoring an SOC project that capitalizes on the assets of the community and best attends to the needs of children, youth, and families.
- Project Implementation: Demonstration sites are aware of their implementation progress and are provided meaningful feedback including preliminary outcomes, strengths, and areas for improvement to better align with identified policies, practices, and programming.
- Raising Awareness: Professionals and the public are aware of the impact of victimization on children and youth and how to respond to victimization.
- Sustainable Initiatives: Communities have the tools to improve their response to child and youth victims of crime.